OPINION: And in this corner ... it's the 'Sugarman'
I think everyone who grew up in the 1970s and 80s secretly wanted to be like Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Rocky Balboa. I admit it, I did. Being the small kid that I was, I really wanted to have muscles like those guys ... and to have music played behind me every time I did something.
After my parents had been paroled from living in the desert in far West Texas when I was a freshman, we (my parents and my younger brother, John) settled in the hustling and bustling community of Ranger, just east of Abilene, which is about an hour west of Fort Worth.
Okay, let me be honest, the only hustling going on in Ranger back then was "The Ranger Bandit" trying to outrun the police department — and, no, it really wasn't me. My father would have killed me if I drove more than 45 miles an hour. The "Bandit" was so famous he had a tiger, a pet snake, got a story in Texas Monthly, had hot girlfriends and, a few years later, an invitation to stay in one of the state-sponsored housing projects.
Look, it wasn't me. Google the "Ranger Bandit" and you'll see. Besides, I was always too afraid the tiger would eat me. Call me dumb, but I don't care how much money was put in that aquarium or how hot his girlfriends were, I wasn't about to put my hand in there with that rattlesnake ... my mother may have given birth to the world's smallest giant, but she didn't give birth to a dummy.
My brother, well ... I think the sand in West Texas messed with his DNA.
Shortly after we settled in Ranger, my dream of becoming a boxer kick-started. As one of the most invisible kids in Ranger High School (I might have missed enough days to earn the "Least Likely to Attend" honor), I happened to meet Charlie Alverson. Charlie, as it turned out, was a boxer in the local Golden Gloves organization.
To be fair, Charlie was an excellent boxer. I'm pretty sure he could have beaten up a brick wall. But, other than he more muscle in his little finger than I had in my entire body, he was also a very nice guy.
As fate would have it, Charlie invited me to come along with him to the gym. One thing let to another and I was boxing — doing exactly what Charlie did, sort of.
He jumped rope a lot. I managed to swing it over my head a few times before tying myself up tighter than Harry Houdini. He ran a lot of miles with weights on his back. Actually, I ran a little and then became the weight on his back.
And we spent hours pounding on the heavy bag. Ummm ... let me rephrase that. Charlie hit the bag. I kind of tapped around on it. We drank raw eggs. Just in case anyone wants to know ... it's a disgusting training requirement.
But I looked sexy as all get out doing it. That has to count for something, right? I think it was all of that boxing training that caused She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Made-Mad to fall for me. Actually, I'm kind of glad she said I was a "funny kid" and that "I should call her" when she did, because if I had had to drink another raw egg, I might have croaked before. Impressing girls is such hard work ...
Of course, we also sparred. There weren't that many boxers in my weight class (as the one they called "Paperweight," I had to box the bigger kids in practice.) Since I knew Charlie, I mostly sparred with him. As an experienced middleweight, he told me he would just move around and let me punch at him. He assured me he wouldn't throw more that three easy punches each round, so I could learn to block and duck punches.
I think I blocked a lot of them with my head ... and I never ducked one. But I was sexy as all get out every time he hit me. I mean, my legs danced faster than John Travolta.
After weeks of training, I found out the boxing coach thought I had gagged on raw eggs and blocked enough punches to go into the ring.
You must know that no self-respecting boxer would ever go in to the ring without a nickname. Usually, someone else gives them a name and they run with it. Being that I was small, I didn't really want anyone calling me the "Five-second Kid," so I came up with my own. Sugarman.
As the night of the first fight approached, I'll admit I had more than a few butterflies. I mean, I had never been in a fight ... unless, of course, if you count the time that my sister held me down and put makeup on me. I don't really count that, because she was in the 10th grade and everyone knows girls in the 10th grade are super tough.
On fight night, I showed up at the boxing arena in Eastland (where everyone in Ranger goes to do anything). Wearing my best skinny, white body and my white trunks (which I had drawn a red heart on ... because I am the Sugarman, dude). I was surprised they found another skinny kid that weighed the same as me, but I was there with all my Rocky moves just waiting to escape. Before my turn there were five other fights, including one in which Charlie was in. I can't remember any of the other fights, but I can remember Charlie hitting his opponent so hard that the hospital in the next county sent him a thank you note for the kidney transplant a few weeks later.
I'm not saying I was scared when they called my name. Scared wouldn't accurately describe how terrified I was. Skinny white kids need their kidneys!
"OMG!" I thought. "Sharon Rish, Brenda Eddleman and LeAnn O'Neil would never like me if I lost a kidney, or suddenly had my nose relocated to where my ear was supposed to be. There's nothing worse than a skinny, super pasty white kid who has to blow in his own ear."
I crawled into the ring. The referee called me to the center of the ring. I was pretty sure he was about to ask me about organ donation of if I was scared to fly in a helicopter to the hospital in Dallas.
He grabbed my left arm and thrust it into the air and said I had won by forfeit. Seems the other kid's car broke down and he wasn't able to make the fight.
I'm not gonna lie. I strutted around the ring like a peacock. The Sugarman was 1-0 and unbeaten.
Two weeks later I had another match. Unfortunately, that kid had parents who could afford a better mechanic. We both danced around the ring like magnets facing their polar ends. I'm sure neither of us got closer to each other than say, the distance of Mississippi to Florida, in the first round.
Somewhere in the third round, he managed to swing and hit me in the nose. Before you think that is some great feat, let me assure you it would be impossible to hit me in the face without hitting my nose. There are eagles that have written my mother letters saying they wish their kids had beaks like mine. But he did hit me in the nose. My eyes watered. My ears rang. My knees went into "Saturday Night Fever" mode.
It was right about this time that can remember telling myself something profound. No, it wasn't something inspirational like "Keep going," or "Win one for the Gipper." It was much more primal.
"There's got to be a better way to impress the girls than being a boxer," I said.
I retired after the bout, happily. I can live with 1-1.
A couple of years later, I toyed with the idea of coming out of retirement but SWMNBMM - thankfully - knocked that idea out. It's OK, though. I'll always remember those two months of working out and boxing. They did something for me that I had dreamed up for years — they actually gave me a muscle in my stomach. It was just a one-pack but I was proud of it.
Besides, writing is so much easier than getting punched in the nose.
Tommy Wells is the editor of the Homer Tribune. Everything in this column is true, except for the parts that have been fabricated, exaggerated or just plain lies.